AURORA | Everybody has to mask up in most of the Aurora region by July 24 when a two-county-wide mask mandate ordered by Tri-County Health Department takes effect.
“Over the past month, there has been a concerning increase in cases which led to our decision to issue this Order,” Tri-County Health Executive Director Dr. John Douglas said in a statement. “The number of cases per day has increased substantially in all three counties over the past month, particularly in the past several days.”
Elected leaders in Aurora, Adams and Arapahoe counties have signaled they will most likely comply with the mandate. But officials from Douglas County not only said they would not go along with requiring masks, but that they would divorce themselves from the three-county health department cooperative in part because of the new regulation.
“My fellow commissioners and I have directed staff to leave (Tri-County Health) and develop a public health department to meet the needs of our residents,” Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas said in a tweet Thursday. “We will also opt out of a mandatory mask order.”
Douglas County officials have pushed back against metro pandemic regulations from the onset of the pandemic crisis in March. Local state and county officials notoriously supported a restaurant in Castle Rock’s defiance of close orders on Mother’s Day, garnering national attention and swift sanctions from Tri-County Health and the state.
The Tri-County Health Department Board of Health narrowly voted Wednesday to require people to wear masks of some kind in public spaces throughout Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties. But the order contained an “opt-out” exception for county commissioners and city leaders to decide the rules won’t apply inside their jurisdictions.
• Includes essentially all retail, service and food-service establishments as well as almost all public transportation.
• States that masks must be worn inside restaurants and bars, including when ordering and paying but are not when a patron is eating or drinking.
• Makes exceptions for people with physical or mental health problems that make wearing a mask dangerous.
• Makes an exception for public schools, saying schools will work under a separate regulation.
• Includes a mandate for working in offices and other worksites, except for where masks created a hazard. People working alone in enclosed offices and not interacting with the public do not have to wear masks.
• Includes taxis and ride-sharing
• Excepts people experiencing homeless because they can’t afford or obtain a mask
• Excepts children under age 2
It was not immediately clear how the order will be enforced. Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman and some other Aurora officials have said they don’t want police to enforce mask infractions. If not law enforcement, it’s unclear who would respond to complaints, since the mandate cites criminal statute for those who won’t comply.
Tri-County said in the order it will accept complaints about the lack of compliance in businesses and would consider punitive measures.
“Any business open to the public that permits an individual to enter or remain in the business or on its premises without a required face covering may be subject to the suspension or revocation of its license by the appropriate licensing authority as provided by law,” the order states.
Aurora officials said they would likely address enforcement at an upcoming city council meeting before the mandate goes into effect July 24.
The Tri-County order cites state law used in earlier stay-at-home orders spelling out infractions as misdemeanors punishable by fine or jail time up to 18 months.
Adams County unequivocally supported the mandate in a statement Thursday. Commissioner Emma Pinter said in a press release the county covering much of north Aurora won’t pull out of the rule.
Pinter, who chairs the Board of County Commissioners, said “It is important we all follow this mandatory face covering order to help meet our long-term goal of keeping our businesses open and our residents healthy and employed.”
Arapahoe County’s Board of County Commissioners also supports the mask mandate and doesn’t plan to opt out “at the moment,” spokesperson Luc Hatlestad said.
In a statement, the board acknowledged the scientific consensus that masks can reduce COVID-19 transmission and said about 80 percent of its residents already wear masks in public spaces.
Commissioner Jeff Baker was concerned because Tri-County Health “decided this order without allowing public comments, and because they are unelected, appointed members with no term limits.”